Memory jog helps shoo away doldrums

American farmers continue their mission to feed the world.

mychal wilmes.jpg
Mychal Wilmes

Constant rain and isolation made it important to find something positive to lift the spirit from the doldrums. The antidote was found in the Meyer Tractor Ride calendar, which was gifted by a young man who attended March’s annual farm show in Rochester, Minn.

“My Dad wanted me to give you this,’’ he said before adding the ride is a pretty big deal in and around Adams, a farming community not far north from the Iowa border.

Tractor rides for good causes and to celebrate rural heritage are common in summer and early fall. The people and their machines helped feed our troops and the world in world war devastation and other calamities.

It is easy to smile while admiring the calendar photographs of Allen Hofland’s Farmall 460, Cole Kruse’s White Field Boss, Heather Mills’ Oliver 1855, and Matthew Neutz’ John Deere B.

Farmers — ever eager to use innovations to increase productivity — made a rapid transition from oxen and horses to steam engines and tractors. Dad, who was among those who started with horses, was among those who didn’t mourn the passage of the horse era.


A good horse team worked as one, though it wasn’t always possible to hitch two that matched in temperament. Dad told about working a field on a hot spring day without giving the team much of a break. The horses smelled water in the air and tore away from the rig and took off at breakneck speed to the water tank, which was a long way from the field.

It was real horsepower, eastern demand for small grain, and North Dakota’s flat land that helped create the massive bonanza farms near the end of the 19th century. The most famous bonanza was Dalrymple Farm, which was the world’s largest farming operation at more than 50,000 acres. There were others in the Red River Valley in an era when wheat was king, and new farming technology and inexpensive labor handsomely rewarded owners.

Railroad titan James Hill started purchasing land in the 1880s in Kittson County, Minn., and before he was through owned more than 45,000 acres. It was a perfect marriage between farming and railroading, because Hill’s cars carted grain to thriving mills in St. Paul, Minneapolis and other destinations.

Historical records indicate Hill’s farming operation had 254 horses and mules, 45 each of seeders, harrows and binders, 100 plows, six threshing machines, and 95 wagons.

The bonanza era had pretty much ended by 1920. It was done in by crop diseases and high taxes. The demand for labor was huge and became costly, and residents of nearby towns complained that the seasonal workers that bonanza farms brought in caused crime and were generally undesirable.

The bonanza farms may have influenced Josef Stalin, the leader of the former Soviet Union, to experiment with collective farms in the 1930s. Before his plan could be implemented, the productive Ukrainian small farms and independent farmers had to be eliminated. To accomplish that, Stalin decided to starve the population into submission.

Grain was confiscated and held in storage facilities guarded by Soviet troops. In 1932-33, at the height of his cruelty, more than 3.9 million Soviet citizens died in what remains the largest man-made mass starvation in history.

Collectivized agriculture proved to be a monumental failure caused by horrible management, a shortage of equipment and parts, and bad weather. Ultimately, chronic food production shortfalls and scarcity in store shelves helped bring about the downfall of the communist system in the Soviet Union.


American farmers continue their mission to feed the world. The future of the world’s growing population depends on their ability to produce abundant food at a price that includes a profit while using the best available seed and machinery technology.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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